Not everyone has the time or inclination to go shopping at Bellis Fair mall or spend an afternoon in Fairhaven, though we in Bellingham are lucky to have these wonderful options. Gift cards are an easy way to give a gift and their appeal extends far beyond Whatcom County, wracking up some impressive numbers on the way.

According to a survey conducted for NRF by Prosper Insights & Analytics, shoppers spend an average of $163.16 on gift cards during the holiday season, and it’s trending upwards. Total spending on gift cards is projected to reach $29.8 billion. Yet unused gift cards total $44 billion since 2008. The cards are the same as cash, so while it’s easier for me to imagine a pile of credit cards lit up in a bonfire, a pile of burning cash is not so easy to stomach.

Last August, Federal Trade Commission rules took effect that are designed to help protect consumers. These rules established restrictions on fees and gift card expiration dates. The highlights are:

  • The earliest expiration date for gift cards is five years from the date the card was purchased. 
  • Inactivity fees can be charged only after a card hasn’t been used for at least one year, and then only once per month. Retailers may charge fees to buy the card initially, however, or to replace a lost or stolen card. In the state of Washington, the law states that gift cards cannot expire.
  • Fees and expiration dates must be clearly disclosed.

Some tips for buying gift cards:

  • Avoid online auction sites such as this site. Cards sold at these kinds of sites may be counterfeit or obtained fraudulently. Why buy something for cheap that’s worth nothing? 
  • As with so many things, read the fine print before buying. Find out if there’s a fee to buy the card, including shipping and handling fees, as well as deductions from the card’s value after it’s purchased.
  • Inspect the card before buying it, and make sure it has not been tampered with. Protective stickers should be intact and any hidden codes should not be scratched off. If you find one that has been damaged, report it to the card’s retailer.
  • Give the recipient the purchase receipt along with the card in case it’s lost or stolen.
  • Consider the financial condition of the business linked to the card. A card from a company that has filed for bankrupcy (Haggen, Bellingham’s favorite grocer, are you listening?) or goes out of busines may be worth less than anticipated. Unique rules may apply in these cases; find out what they are before you buy.

Remember, a card is like cash, so try to use it as soon as possible. 

Bill Coats Law is a personal injury law firm working with accident victims to obtain fast, full and fair settlements. 




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